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The Masseria Valente in Gambatesa

Gambatesa on the map of Italy, 2 KB
Gambatesa is a village in central southern Italy between Naples and Rome.

The Masseria Valente ("Valente Farm") lies within the agro ("agricultural territory") of the Comune ("a town and the territory it administers", "municipality") of Gambatesa.

The masseria belonged to the descendents of the Domenico Valente who (with his son Pasquale and daughter Anna) was the first Valente to live in Gambatesa.  His grandson Domenico acquired the land some time after 1806, when feudalism was abolished in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Naples.  Domenico was the great-great-grandfather of Giovanni Valente and of Giovanni's first cousin Luca Valente.

Looking Toward Gambatesa from the Masseria Valente

The photograph below shows the village center (centro abitato) of Gambatesa as seen from the north.  The massive white structure at the top (just left of center) is the Medieval Castle of Gambatesa; it is located on the Colle Serrone ("Serrone Pass", or, "Serrone Hill").  The bell tower of the Church of San Bartolomeo Apostolo rises just to the right of it.  The Via San Nicola (Sannicola) where many of the Valente family were born and lived lies southeast of the castle (i.e. to the viewer's left).

Gambatesa seen from the Masseria Valente, 39 KB

The photograph above was taken at the end of August 2001 at around 5-6 PM by Angelo Abiuso (Geneva).  "For the photograph I had the camera lens zoomed to around 50-60mm" (Note: the 50mm view is what you can see when you close one of your eyes).

Old Italian Military Map of Part of the Territory of Gambatesa

The map below is based on Gambatesa, F.o 162 della Carta d'Italia, Istituto geografico militare, 1955-1957.  The map's grid-lines represent areas of 1 km. by 1 km. (0.62 miles by 0.62 miles).  The village center of Gambatesa is at 41.30° North latitude, 14.55° East longitude.

Map showing the village of Gambatesa and the Valente Farm, 47 KB

The map below shows the approximate location of the Masseria Valente in relation to the village center of Gambatesa.

Map: Masseria Valente, Gambatesa, 2 KB

The map below shows the approximate area of the Comune ("village and its agricultural land") of Gambatesa shown on the large map above.

Map: Masseria Valente, Gambatesa, 2 KB

The Masseria Valente and Gambatesa on the Map

The Valente Farm measured 100 tomolo in area, one of these ancient units being, in Gambatesa, equivalent to 2,800 square meters.  In other words the farm covered about 70 acres or a tenth of a square mile, the diagonal of which would take the average hiker about three minutes to cross.  The farm used to include the whole of the Macchie della Terra (macchia means a "hill with woods or scrub"), but some of that land has now been acquired by the Italian government for reforestation, all the woods of this area having been harvested for ship-building during the 16th and 17th Century Spanish occupation of southern Italy.

The Tappino River is called Torrente Tappino in Italian; torrente means a "fast flowing mountain stream", brimming with water during the rainy winter and spring, but running almost dry in summer.  The Fezzano River is also a torrente.  The Tappino flows eastward into the Fortore River at the northeastern end of Gambatesa.  On the farm vegetables and wheat are grown, with some, but very few, olive trees and grapevines for wine.

The valley of the Tappino -- where it coincides with fondo valle ("the valley bottom") -- is a natural entry way to the north from the plain of Puglia, bounded as it is on both sides by highland.  It also provides a natural defensive position -- a doorway to close.  It was so used by Frederick Barbarossa against the Saracens; indeed, the story is told that the mosquitos of the area made it impossible for the Saracens to fight and so they withdrew; to give thanks for this victory Frederick is said to have had the Cappella della Madonna della Vittoria built, although that could not have been the name that it was originally given.  The Cappella is indicated on the map by the cross to the left of its name (drawn almost upside down near the Fezzano River).  The valley of the Tappino was also used by the German Army to slow the advance of the Canadian Army in World War II.

The large white building with two towers in the foreground of the photograph showing the village of Gambatesa above is a taverna ("inn that serves wine") left over from the days when the tratturo ("Sheep migration track") was still in use.  It is indicated on the map by the large dark spot beside the altitude number 226 (meters) just on the other side of the Tappino River from the Masseria Valente.  The taverna used to have two towers, but one has collapsed, although the other is in good condition.  For the most part the tratturo itself is now invisible.  However, in the old days the shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats used to stop to rest at this taverna on their way to and from Puglia.  The name of the taverna in the photograph is the Taverna Antonio Conte.

In the 1950s and 1960s some of the tratturo was given to the poor as farmland.  And part of it was built over in the construction of the Provincial Roadway between the cities of Campobasso and Foggia (S. 645) which bypasses the village of Gambatesa to the north.  So that the tratturo exists now only as a memory.

"All the farms in the Gambatesa area are called masseria.  You must say masseriola to indicate a small one."

Roads and Topography

Just to the west of the village of Gambatesa on the map, there is a road labeled "S.S. N.o 17".  This is Strada Statale No. 17, also known as Via Appulo-Sannitica: it is the old provincial road -- maybe dating back to Roman times -- that connects the provincial capital cities of Foggia and Campobasso.

Strada Statale No. 17 leaves Gambatesa going toward the southwest, then switches toward the southeast, but then quickly loops back toward the north.  Then following a series of switch-backs, Via Appulo-Sannitica leaves the map going toward the west (See "No 17" just to the left of Toppo della Salandra).  This gives a good idea of how provincial roads were constructed to follow the contours of the territory's hills.  Old roads give a good idea of the territory's topography.

The Village of Gambatesa

Turning now to the village center of Gambatesa on the map, the large cross to the left of the altitude number 460 (meters) indicates the Church of San Bartolomeo Apostolo.  Next to that, the broad road that runs the length of the village is Gambatesa's Corso Roma, at the base of which is the large square called Largo Fontana (beside the altitude number 468; the 468 lies directly over the Contrada Carestia).  Just to the right (i.e. northeast) of Largo Fontana lies the Via Municipio, at the end of which (to the right or due east) lies Via Sannicola.  Going towards the southeast, Via Sannicola leads to the Church and Cross of San Nicola.  At the southwestern end of the village is Largo della Madonna ("largo" means a large square or open space around for example a fountain or a statue).  [Large street map of the town center of Gambatesa, from 1927 and 1939]

Turning northeast on the road beyond the Church of San Nicola leads to Gambatesa's cemetery, indicated on the map by a large X inside a box.

The Masseria Valente lies to the northeast of two of Gambatesa's three ancient villages, remembered now only as Toppo della Vipera and Toppo della Salandra (toppo means the "top of a cliff where a hill is cut in half" or a "wooded ridge").  On the map above these toppi lie just to the left of the Cappella della Madonna della Vittoria.  These hills were the original location of the village of Gambatesa.

The Extent of the old Masseria Valente

The photograph below was taken at the Fezzano Bridge looking into the fondo valle; it shows the land that belonged to the old Masseria Valente.  The farm included the wooded hill at the top of photograph; and then from the center of the unwooded hill at center-left, it included the open plain and the wooded plain all the way to the right edge of the photograph.  All this land belonged to the Valente Farm.

The old extent of the Masseria Valente's land, 39 KB

Photograph by Angelo Abiuso (Geneva), 2 August 2002 at between 6 and 6:30 PM

There are two farmhouses at the center bottom of the photograph.  The house on the viewer's right belongs to the present Masseria Valente.  The present owner of the Masseria Valente is a grandson of Giovanni Valente's oldest brother Michele Valente.  His parents were Antonio Valente and Giuseppina Aitella.

There also exist two photographs of the countryside of Gambatesa that were taken during a visit to Gambatesa in September 1960.  The visit was by Giovanni Valente's daughter Esther (1930-1994) and his niece Anna-v.  The photographs may be of the Masseria Valente because that was a farm the girls visited.  However, there is also a photograph of Esther Valente from September 1960 that shows the old farmhouse of Michele Valente in the background, and so it is also possible that the photographs are of Michele's farm rather than of the Masseria Valente.

The Origin of the Masseria Valente

The Masseria Valente was the farm of the Donato Valente (1817-1902) who was the father of the brothers Francesco and Nicola Valente.  Donato's sons Antonio Valente (b. 1842), Francesco Valente (b. 1847) and Nicola Valente (b. 1853) worked the Masseria Valente together.

Donato's father Nicola Valente was born in 1793; at his marriage Nicola's occupation or condition in life was recorded as colono (although his death record has contadino).  Nicola's father Domenico Valente (1764-1828) is called colono in his own death record, and Domenico's occupation or condition in life in his son Nicola's death record is given as possidente (landowner).  Because feudalism only ended in southern Italy in 1806, Domenico would have been the one who acquired the farm land, because his own father, Pasquale Valente, the first Valente to live in Gambatesa, died in 1793 (Pasquale's occupation was vetturale, or, "carter").

Walking from the village center of Gambatesa to the Masseria Valente

The Masseria Valente ("Valente Farm") is shown near the top of the military map above.  (The word Masseria is abbreviated to Mass.a; the letter "a" is placed above the period.)  Note: this map shows only a small part of the territory of the comune.

Gambatesa is on a hill.  Down the hill there is a river named Tappino.  There is a bridge on the Tappino River (The bridge is named Ponte Fezzano).  The Masseria is on the other side of the river from the village, just after the bridge.  It is not too far from Gambatesa.

"It is not too far ..."

To walk to the Masseria takes 40 or 45 minutes using the old path going from the end of the Corso Roma (the avenue that runs the length of the village) to la Cappella della Madonna della Vittoria (see northwest corner of the village), and more or less the same amount of time using another old path starting from la Peschiera (see southwest corner of the village) and going down to the river.

If you approach the Masseria from the east-south-east, on a map of the area try to find La Piana delle Noci ("The Plain of Walnuts").  In that place you'll find 2 ridges (hills) la Salandra and la Vipera.  The Masseria Valente is behind them in what they call the fondo valle.

Note: the village of Gambatesa is on a hill, and the people of Gambatesa call the bottom of the valley below this hill the fondo valle ("the valley bottom").  (Although it is below the village, the Piana delle Noci is not itself in the fondo valle.)

Try to find the point where the Fezzano River runs into the Tappino River.  The Masseria Valente is on that point.

If you ask for directions in the village, the Masseria Valente is now better known in Gambatesa as the "Masseria Santaloia" because if you ask for the Masseria Valente people will be confused and ask which one?  Because there is another masseria near the village owned by a Valente; it is near the cemetery.

The Masseria Valente (farmhouse) seen from the ruins of a taverna

The ruins in the right foreground of the photograph below belong to an old taverna, the Taverna Vena.  At the center of this photograph there is a gray farmhouse; that is the farmhouse of the Masseria Valente.  Most of the farmland of the Masseria is hidden by the taverna and the trees (bushes) in front of it.

The Masseria Valente seen from the ruins of a taverna, 40 KB

Photograph by Angelo Abiuso (Geneva), 2 August 2002 at between 6 and 6:30 PM.

The taverna is on a small hill.  In the very foreground of the photograph there is a wheat field.  In August the remains of the wheat fields were burned at night.  There were big fires in the fields all around Gambatesa.  This went on into the 1980s, as Angelo remembers seeing them.

Strange things happened near the Masseria

In living memory there were highwaymen ("men who robbed travelers on the road") working the tratturo near the Masseria Valente at night.  One night a doctor on horseback, who had concealed a lantern under his cloak, was able to see the face of one robber and so the village learned who the robbers were.  Before there was a bridge in the fondo valle, some farmers would let travelers use the farmers' donkeys to cross the river; but then when the travelers got half-way across, the farmers would say, Give us your money or we will leave you here.

These stories are told about three brothers, but there were other people doing things like this besides them.  They could get away with it because they did not touch Gambatesans, but only strangers using the tratturo, and because the Gambatesans were afraid of them.

Old people still remember these men; they had a bad reputation, of course.  People say of them: erano cattivi ("They were bad men"); they were accapezatori ("collectors of stolen things"), camorristi ("gangsters"), and carnefici ("carnivores", unfeeling, heartless men).

Fear of such brigands, and not only the need for food, water and shelter and a desire for companionship, made the mountain shepherds who migrated with their sheep along the tratturo prefer to spend the night at a masseria rather than in the wild.

Related Pages:

• Two more photographs of the Colle della Putina, the reforested hill that used to be part of the Masseria Valente.  "I like this place.  It is very beautiful here."

The Wheat Harvest in Gambatesa, with an historical photograph (from 1947) of wheat threshing in Gambatesa.

Cats and snakes in Gambatesa.  Vipers can be quite dangerous on the farm.  In the past people were killed by vipers.  "Where there are cats there are no snakes, and that is maybe why cats were so important in Gambatesa."

Old legal manuscripts concerning the Valente Farm in Gambatesa; photographs of the backs of the documents and of the box they were discovered in; August 2003.  (The documents themselves are not legible.)

Via Appulo-Sannitica (also known as Via Nazionale Appula and Strada Statale No. 17) is the old road -- maybe from the Roman Empire -- the only way there used to be to go from Foggia to Campobasso.

The Christmas Zampognaro ("bagpipe-player"), and the visits of the mountain shepherds to the farmhouses of Gambatesa during the biannual sheep migrations from the mountains of Abruzzo to the plains of Puglia and back.

The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/massvale.html
Last revised: 24 September 2004 : 2004-09-24 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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